George Washington University fired Mike Lonergan as its men’s basketball coach in the wake of an independent investigation into claims he verbally abused players, Provost Forrest Maltzman said in a statement Saturday afternoon.
The investigation came following a Washington Post report this summer that the school had fielded complaints from players about Lonergan’s behavior. The accusations included Lonergan denigrating players and making repeated graphic, offensive remarks about Patrick Nero, the school’s athletic director.
“The university has created and is committed to maintaining a community where all students, faculty and staff feel welcome and comfortable,” Maltzman wrote. “We value inclusion and diversity and will not tolerate conduct that runs counter to those principles.
“The university recently conducted a thorough investigation into allegations concerning Coach Lonergan. The university concluded that Coach Lonergan had engaged in conduct inconsistent with the university’s values.”
George Washington is currently conducting a “broader review” of the athletic department and will complete it in the “near future,” Maltzman said. Maltzman offered no details about the job security of Lonergan’s staff, Nero or any other athletic department officials.
“We recognize and embrace our responsibility to provide a supportive and respectful environment for all members of our community,” Maltzman said.
Lonergan and his attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment. George Washington made no officials available.
USA Today reported late Friday night that Lonergan had already been fired. The university remained silent through the night and much of Saturday afternoon, leaving players and assistant coaches in limbo. One player said assistants were in the dark but sent players messages to “stay together.”
Friday included features of a typical fall day for a college basketball program. The Colonials hosted highly regarded recruit Anthony Longpre of Glenelg Country School, who toured the campus like normal until word circulated about Lonergan and assistant coaches called him. Longpre stayed in the District on Friday night, but his visit was cut short Saturday.
“He was there yesterday,” Glenelg Country School Coach Kevin Quinlan said Saturday. “I didn’t hear about it until about 10:15, 10:30 last night. I texted Anthony. I just texted him there was news breaking he needed to be aware of. He already knew about it. I didn’t get any details.”
Lonergan’s dismissal comes at an awkward time. In two weeks, George Washington will hold its first practice. The Colonials recently returned from a team trip to Japan, on which Lonergan served as the head coach.
Lonergan, an Archbishop Carroll High and Catholic University graduate, guided the Colonials to the National Invitation Tournament title this past March. He posted a 97-70 record after moving to GW from Vermont in 2011 and led the Colonials to the 2014 NCAA tournament.
Beneath the success, though, 13 players have left the program in his five seasons, including three after the season in each of the past four years. This summer, players detailed wide-ranging allegations about behavior they considered abusive and bizarre. One former Colonials player said he attended therapy sessions owing to Lonergan’s actions. Players said he frequently told them to stay away from Nero because Nero was sexually obsessed with them, which players believed was not grounded in reality.
“These types of accusations have already been investigated by the university and found to be groundless,” Lonergan said in July in an emailed statement. “Those who know me know that I conduct myself and run my program with integrity. I have a long record of graduating student-athletes who go on to be successful in life. I am proud of my student-athletes’ success on the court and in the classroom, and I am focused on preparing for the upcoming season.”
The story prompted the school to hire outside counsel in order to investigate Lonergan’s behavior. Investigators interviewed an exhaustive list of former players and coaches over the past two months. Law firm Saul Ewing conducted the investigation, according to people familiar with the situation.
The school received complaints regarding Lonergan’s alleged abuse after the 2014-15 season. While George Washington officials instructed Lonergan to moderate his behavior in private, the school offered no public rebuke and sent Lonergan a letter clearing him. Before the 2015-16 season, the school assigned an associate athletic director, Ed Scott, to embed with the team and oversee Lonergan.
On Saturday morning, the Colonials attempted a measure of normalcy. Associate head coach Hajj Turner posted a video on Instagram of players working out near the Lincoln Memorial.
Gene Wang and Steven Goff contributed to this report.